One of my English friends in Beijing was holding a party to celebrate the royal wedding in England between Prince William and Kate at a house up in the countryside north of Beijing. I decided it was a good reason to go on a training run. His place is near Mutianyu Great Wall （慕田峪长城） and about 100 km from my apartment in downtown Beijing.
Since I had no spare inner tube or pump compatible with my newish road bike I took my around town folding bike with fat, slow tires. At 6:00 AM, I hopped on my bike and started the 4 km ride to Dongzhimen (东直门). Quickly I realized both tires were fairly flat having not ridden the bike in a while. I kept going since no bike shop or corner bicycle hack would be available for at least another three hours. Plus the later you get on the number 916 bus to Huairou （怀柔) the more and more crowded it gets. (China is like that — things get crowded quickly.)
A little surprisingly, I was allowed on the bus with my huge bag. I went all the way to the back with my bike in the bag completely blocking the aisle. Chinese are used to this and everyone who sat behind me clambered over my bike to get to the seats. I was not the only one with aisle obstructing luggage. But I was the only one who got the complaint, “外国人行李太大！过不去！” (“The foreigner’s luggage is too big! You can’t go by!”) I pretended I didn’t understand.
Huairou is where almost everyone going to Mutianyu Great Wall goes if they are not on a tour. That section of wall is about 20 km or so from Huairou. I was sitting at the window of the bus so at every stop the taxi drivers (hei che — illegal taxis, mostly minivans) would jump on the bus and try to get me to go to the Great Wall with them. They figure they can over charge foreigners so much better to get me as a customer than a Chinese who will bargain toe and nail.
When we got to Huairou bus terminal I was again surrounded by people looking to have me go with them to the Great Wall. One woman, pointing at my big bag, said to the others, “Why do you bother with him? It is obvious he doesn’t need a taxi.” The others didn’t get it until she said, “He has a bicycle in the bag. He’ll go on his own.” At this point I was a bit away from everyone, unzipped the bag, and unfolded the bike. The disappointment was evident on some, but it quickly turned to curiosity at who was this guy who carries a bike around with him. While putting on the pedals, I answered all the typical questions of where I was from, how long I lived in Beijing, what kind of work, am I married, where am I going. At this point it was still not even 8 AM.
I needed air for my tires if I wanted to get any sort of speed going. I saw a typical government compound, made out the Chinese best I could and realized it was a government union workers living quarters. I thought they might have pump better than mine. Sure enough, my rolling in attracted attention, and when asked someone brought out a pump. Problem solved and I was on my way. Despite forgetting my map on my desk at home, it was easy to follow the signs to Mutianyu along country road X009 out of Huairou.
The first time I came to China in 1995, my friend and I went up to the Great Wall at Simatai (司马台长城) which is a little further north near Miyun (密云). I remember the roads being terrible — potholes, no shoulder, dirt. With that memory, I was very happy to find the roads are really good now. The bicycle lane from Huairou all the way to Mutianyu and beyond was at least a couple meters wide. After Mutianyu a ways it went to nothing, but the roads were still good and sometimes had a good sized should to ride on. Bicycles and motorized tricycles are still a major source of transportation in China.
I saw a couple of groups of ten or so road bikers on the way. Groups of road bikers regularly go to the mountains north of Beijing on the weekends.
The weather started out OK, but quickly it started getting darker, gloomier and windy. At first I thought rain, but the red tint of the sky told me it was going to be a sandstorm. Shortly afterwards, the sandy grit between my teeth confirmed it. The wind and sand let up by the time I arrived at my friend’s house, and I was greeted with a refreshing glass of Pims.
The day was a bit cold, windy and always threaten rain putting a slight damper on the joyous occasion of a royal wedding. There were no royalists in the group but some women adored weddings.
At one point the rain did break through. Rather than drops of water, the sand and raindrops met mid-air resulting in mud falling from the sky. I suppose since we were in China and the wedding was on replay it was not an ominous event. At least there was no fire and brimstone to go along with the mud. That might have been ominous.
Returning to Beijing
The day after the party was glorious and I enjoyed sitting in the garden soaking in some sunshine. It was a sad moment after lunch when I came to grips with having to leave the peace countryside to go back to the crowded city of Beijing. I had the ride to look forward to, but considering it was 100 km, and I didn’t know the way instead relying on my feeling I could not miss Beijing — a city of nearly 20 million — I figured it would take about 5 hours to get back on my slow bike.
The ride back took me through the Tuoling Tunnel (驼铃隧垌) on X009, down a nice down hill to Ansi Road (安四路 — S213). I followed this down the valley, past all the ‘Farm House’ restaurants that serve freshly killed trout (golden or rainbow) grilled to perfection, towards Huairou. The restaurants all have the same feel to them and probably serve similar food. All probably not bad.
Long sections of road are tree lined and shaded, and the river for a Chinese river was fairly clean and unpolluted. Nearing the outskirts of Huairou, in ChaWu (茶塢) I went directly south towards Beijing. This route cuts through farm of wheat and fruit trees along wide, flat roads with not too many cars. Nearer to Beijing it runs into the Capital Airport area and the developing Shunyi (顺义区）area where the Beijing government has decided will be a financial services center.
Going along with the growth of new office parks, residential complexes, gated communities consisting of parodies of European villas, and shopping malls that will make up the new Shunyi is the destruction of what is currently there. Neighborhoods are flattened, the rubble picked clean of all reusable materials, and left looking like a bomb shattered city until the last squatters sell and leave.
Navigating the last hour or so into Beijing was difficult with many ‘you can’t get there from here’ situations caused by railroads, expressways, and gated housing developments, but I finally got home covering 100 km in about five hours.
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